Transit systems in the developing world need to focus on providing accessible mobility. More job opportunities and a thriving economy will follow.
The coronavirus pandemic and the global Black Lives Matter movement have pushed the world towards more social justice initiatives. Countries, companies, cities, and individuals are all taking a hard look at themselves and taking strides to become more equitable. When it comes to the overall health and productivity of developing cities in particular, sustainable transportation plays a huge role.
“Providing accessibility to everybody is one of the goals of a sustainable transport system,” said Dario Hidalgo, Senior Mobility Researcher at the World Resource Institute. There are a few ways to go about doing that.
Hidalgo says to start with coverage by design. Cities need to plan the system so that it’s physically available for people of lower income brackets, people who live in the peripheries of the city and could benefit by having more access to jobs through better public transit. This solution also provides an opportunity to solve environmental problems that result from traffic congestion and urban sprawl.
Public transit systems also need to be accessible in terms of cost. Many lower income individuals are priced out of paying the user fare, so cities need to invest in targeted subsidies to help the most vulnerable move around. Hidalgo points to Bogotá’s implementation of targeted subsidies for poorer populations, but he says the city still has a long way to go.
Many developing countries already have a sustainable modal share. People usually walk, cycle, and take public transit to get around. But the quality of those modes of transport is often subpar. By focusing on quality, as well, transport systems can retain users while giving them the opportunity to access that is safe, environmentally and economically efficient, and has a social dimension that is designed for all people.
Finally, transport operators need to consider the special needs of special groups, especially women.
“Women have different travel patterns than men,” Hidalgo says. “They are usually caregivers in their home and often take care of disabled or elderly family members. So if you design a travel system that caters for the needs of women, you are making one that’s more equitable and more just.”
In a WRI study from 2019 that analyzed data from Cape Town and Mexico City, Hidalgo and his team of researchers found that focusing on accessibility for those who need it the most results in a more productive city.
“Usually the approach to transport planning is to make things faster,” he says. “But we’re finding that you really need more accessibility. It doesn’t matter how fast you move if more people don’t have more access to jobs.”